The Steinweg Port in Baltimore

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At the end of last week we had gone to Baltimore to meet up with Rupert Denney who is the general executive of the Steinweg Port Facility which is part of Baltimore’s Port. It was established in 1989 and has globally transported non-ferrous metals and soft commodities. They own several different vessels but only three were mentioned in great detail. The container carrier, the coal bulker, and the coastal tanker – all of which have cause tremendous environmental issues. Rupert talked about the Baltimore Sustainability Plan that focuses on the improvement of air quality pollution and water pollution that these industrial boats make. After his discussion he took us all on a boat ride that went around the Baltimore Ports which was fascinating to see. Upon our return he showed us around the facility and explained some of the procedures of foreign trading.

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I was very excited about this particular trip because I wanted to learn more about what industrial barges are used and how products are traded and shipped on a huge scale. Time and again I would see these huge boats on the Chesapeake Bay while crossing the bridge and it bothered me that I didn’t know what they were or their purpose. I also could remember the times I went to shop at Wal Mart or Sam’s Club and be surprised by the big packages of products that were stored there. How did they get there, why so many of them, was it really true that so many people consume so much? All of these questions I had hoped would be answered on this trip. What I learned was far more than I had anticipated. First of all Rupert explained what each of the three vessels are used for and their environmental ramifications. The container carrier supplies the products that are imported to be sold at our big stores such as Wal Mart and also the Dollar General. Coal bulkers are designed to ship tons of coal for a number of companies and the coastal tanker is used to carry hazardous chemicals. All of them are under the category of boat trafficking which can cause serious water pollution. Coal bulkers may cause rain acid and runoff and the coastal tankers have been known to cause some serious damage to the marine ecosystem because of a spill or leakage. These types of environmental problems must be solved somehow because it is degrading the Baltimore Harbor in ways that are similar to the Chesapeake Bay. It was disconcerting to learn about these facts because I know we could do much better at being sustainable and fixing these simple yet catastrophic problems.

Rupert then talked about the Sustainability Plan to address these issues and other to improve the quality of our air and waterways. One of the biggest problems is when transportation machines whether they are vessels or trucks are idling too much which causes air pollution. A few examples to counteract that is having low sulfur fuel, slow steaming (reducing the speed), or shore power. All of these are ways to save energy and avoid unnecessary puffs of black smoke rising into the atmosphere. Water pollution is probably even bigger because of the undeveloped infrastructure of sewage pipes and large areas of impervious surfaces. There are a few simple things that can be done to avoid unclean water from entering the harbor such as making vegetation barriers, rain gardens, and create more pervious surfaces. Currently the Steinweg Port is working alongside the Blue Water Company who try and implement BMPs around the urban areas. One of the crucial practices that is underway is to improve and maintain the sewage pipes. Right now almost all of them are fractured or broken and are causing raw sewage to enter the waterways without any sort of processing. Rupert stated that the sewage pipes are not functioning as they should be because of the increase of population in the urban areas of the harbor, there is simply too much waste for the pipes to handle. In all aspects, this Plan is trying to reduce air and water pollution by addressing the main causes from vessels and sewage pipes. After hearing about this plan I was a bit relieved, it appeared that they knew what the major causes were and finding the best solutions. I just wondered though if it was enough for such a huge industrial port and the ever presences of a growing population in that part of Baltimore.

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The boat ride was fantastic and the tour around the facility was amazing, Rupert did a great job of explaining how the procedures of trading and shipping the products. On such a large scale and having ships come in all the time, they must unload and store everything in timely order or else they are charged if the job isn’t done quickly enough. Interestingly enough, some of the materials (mostly metal) are kept in storage even though they are being traded and bought by different companies. They often stay in a storage warehouses for long periods of time, sometimes over a year or more. It was a fun experience to learn about these things and I was certainly impressed by how much of any one thing is stored there. Not only did I get the opportunity to pick up a single brick of lead (which by the way was incredibly heavy!) but I also got to taste a cocoa beans on our last stop. Everything that I learned on this trip helped to answer some of my question that I had before but in place of those answers, I had more questions that consumed me as we left. It struck me the sheer amount of products that are shipped daily to reach our big companies and be put on shelves so that we can buy whatever we want. Consumerism is no joke at all, it’s actually very frightening. How did we get to this point? The most simply answer would be population growth but of course it’s much more complex than that. It’s important now than ever to try and reduce this phenomena where we are consuming more than we need. It’s a detriment to our environment.

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